Salinas relative held in $84m Swiss swoop

Mexico scandal: Geneva police launch money-laundering inquiry
Click to follow
The Independent Online

and agencies

The scandal enveloping Mexico's political establishment acquired fresh dimensions yesterday when the Swiss authorities announced that the sister- in-law of the former president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had been arrested in Geneva in a drugs and money-laundering investigation.

Paulina Castanon was arrested in the company of her brother, Antonion Castanon, as she used false documents in an attempt to withdraw $84m (pounds 53m) from a Swiss bank account, according to the Mexican attorney-general's office. She is the wife of Mr Salinas's brother, Raul, who has been in detention since February on charges that he masterminded the murder of the secretary-general of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Mexican newspapers yesterday published photographs of a false driving licence bearing Raul Salinas's photograph but in the name of Juan Guillermo Gomez, an alias the authorities say he has used before to buy one of the 21 properties they claim he accumulated during his brother's years in power. His wife presented the licence at the Geneva bank as proof of identity. Investigators subsequently found a birth certificate, passport and other documents bearing the same photograph and false name.

Without naming Ms Castanon, the Swiss statement said two Mexican nationals had been arrested and bank accounts containing millions of dollars had been blocked in Geneva and Zurich. "In collaboration with US and Mexican authorities," the statement added, "a judicial police inquiry is under way into several Mexican nationals for alleged activities in financing drug trafficking and laundering money from the traffic of drugs."

Former president Salinas was praised as an economic reformer while in office, but his reputation collapsed almost as soon as his term was over. Having been tipped as a possible leader of the new World Trade Organisation until the scandal broke, he left Mexico under a cloud earlier this year, having quarrelled publicly with his successor, Ernesto Zedillo. A few days earlier his brother had been arrested for allegedly ordering the assassination of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the PRI secretary-general. The ex-president's present whereabouts are not known, although Reforma newspaper reported yesterday that he had been sighted at the end of August in Cuba, using a false identity.

The arrest of Ms Castanon adds evidence of possible drug-dealing and corruption to a case of murder and betrayal among families at the top of Mexico's political structure. Even the brother of the assassinated politician is implicated. Having been put in charge of investigating the killing, Mario Ruiz Massieu, a former Deputy Attorney-General, is accused of trying to cover up Raul Salinas's alleged part in the murder plot. His previous job was heading the anti-narcotics work of the attorney-general's office; prosecutors now claim to have found nearly $7m in bank accounts he opened in Texas.

The Mexican authorities say the latest arrests show that Raul Salinas amassed a fortune while his brother was in office, using a false identity and 30 bank accounts. They plan to question him in detention about the origin of the money his wife was trying to withdraw.

The man who carried out Francisco Ruiz Massieu's murder in September 1994, Daniel Aguilar Trevino, was arrested at the scene and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Police soon arrested a half a dozen alleged conspirators, but the key figure, Manuel Munoz Rocha, a congressman, disappeared soon after the killing, and prosecutors say they are afraid he may be dead. Raul Salinas has denied claims by some witnesses that he was close to Mr Munoz Rocha, and saw him after Ruiz Massieu was killed.